All Will Be Well

(1000 words) One summer night, a man stood on a low hill overlooking a wide expanse of field and forest. By the orange crescent moon hanging low in the west, he knew it was near the hour of dawn. A light mist lay along the earth, but above it, tall trees showed against a clear sky, and far off, the small dark rectangle of a farmhouse lay visible through the haze. She’ll be asleep in her bed, he thought, feeling his body stir at the thought of naked flesh enmeshed in an eiderdown and the smell of a sleeping woman. He turned the freshly sharpened axe to a more comfortable position on his shoulder and began to walk the path down the hill, the path to the farmhouse, nestling there in the grey distance, perhaps half a mile away. As he trod the track in the silent early morning, the first birds began to stir. Soon, the deafening dawn chorus would be ringing out over the countryside. But before then, it would all be over.

Lamb Chop

(1200 words) The boy hesitated, a wild lost figure in the silence of the London Square. They were all against him, these tall remote houses with their sense of order and permanence. He came from the outside, from the dark and cold which was not allowed to disturb the peace of those lighted rooms, and the people who lived graciously behind them. From a world where a penny Oxo cube with bread might be supper, and a pennyworth of chips and a tuppeny slice of fried fish a banquet. The boy consulted a scrap of paper underneath a gas lamp, and then ran forward, driven by a concern greater than his fear of intrusion. He lifted the brass knocker, then struck it twice against its metal base. He stood shivering on the doorstep, feeling as out of place as a fish on a cloud. He wanted to run back into the all-enveloping black of the night but was determined to pass on the message. Not just for the shiny shilling he hoped to be paid – a veritable fortune – but out of respect for his friend and mentor, Kezia. The door opened, and a man in a black uniform with a white collar looked down at the boy. “Go away before I call the police.”

The Magician

(1400 words) In a town in Morocco lived a man named Gilad Hebron. Having no other means of gaining a livelihood, he used to ride every day into the forest to cut wood, which he would then hawk around the streets for sale. One day, upon returning to the town, Gilad encountered a man on a white steed, accompanied by a number of other men, mounted upon fine horses and dressed in jackets of leather and chain mail. “Greetings!” called out the white-horsed man. “What sellest thou?” “Why, sir, I have firewood of the highest quality. ‘Tis true, a little green, but it will burn brightly, once the smoke has diminished.” “My name is Augustus de Casablanca, and my men are knights of the Court of Casablanca. We are headed homewards but it has just come to our attention that the bridge over the Gorge de Mort was damaged recently by a most tremendous storm.” Gilad bowed. “Well, I hope that your way will not be too much disadvantaged, and I wish you ‘bon voyage,’ Sir Augustus.” “Well, my good man, it could be that the gorge is somewhat impassable and some excellent firewood may help to summon assistance from the natives who dwell on its far side. I would therefore desire that you accompany us thus far!” Not really understanding how firewood would help cross a gorge but thinking that he might be rewarded handsomely for his co-operation, Gilad let the men transfer the wood to their horses.

In Memoriam

(800 words) We all know how much we depend on our postmen and postwomen,” intoned Arthur, the vicar, concluding the eulogy, “and Barney was one of the best. Everyone loved Barney.” I looked around the packed church. There was Mavis McLung with her cheeky face surrounded by a mop of ginger curls, courtesy of L’Oréal. Then there was Carol Hardaker, her pug-like visage glaring around at the other villagers lining the pews, her bitchiness silenced through necessity for the time being. In the front row sat Maureen, Barney’s widow, dressed in a neat black two-piece with a black hat and veil. Her two teenage sons sat to her right, their eyes red and swollen. My wife, Sue, took my arm as we finally traipsed out into the graveyard and the warm sun of an early spring morning. “What a bunch of hypocrites,” she whispered.

The Coffin Club

(1000 word story) His head felt sluggish as he brewed a cafetière of coffee. Too many whiskies whilst pondering plot complexities and fighting with dialogue, he supposed. On his way to the downstairs toilet, he spotted a card pushed under the front door. That was odd. He bent down to pick it up, feeling the familiar stab of pain in his back, arms and knees. ‘The Coffin Club invites Ronald Knaggs Esq. to The Haunted Windmill for an evening of intrigue,’ it read. Knaggs rubbed his unshaven cheeks. The Coffin Club? He’d never heard of it, and as for the Haunted Windmill, well, there was only one windmill he could think of locally and that was rammed with a family of layabouts and barking dogs. As the coffee nudged his brain fog aside, he examined the card and saw that the meeting was the following evening and that the windmill was out on the coast, on an old saltmarsh, about half an hour’s drive away. Hmm. Thinking about it, maybe it might give him some ideas for Silver Flower? Almost breaking a tooth on a slice of burnt toast, he determined to go.

The Question

(1000 word story) “Mohammedan Mysticism, this sounds interesting. Edward Gall.” Gloria was up to her usual Amazon surfing. As if we hadn’t got enough books. “Mm,” I said. “Oh, seems it’s just an extract from Mysticism Throughout the Ages. 1946. Huh, this is just twenty-eight pages for thirteen quid, what a rip off!” It was gone midnight on an early September evening, and I was reading a ghost story in bed, The Horla. I could do without the click-clack of Gloria’s computer keyboard in the corner. “Come to bed.” “Flipping hell,” she exclaimed, “Greg, you’re not going to believe this, there’s a book here, well, it’s not really a book, it says two pages. Seven thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine pounds!” “What! That must be a misprint.” That made me put The Horla down in a hurry. I got up and went over to Gloria’s iMac and looked. Sure enough. The Question by ‘Librabis.’ There were a handful of reviews, all five stars, and from ‘verified purchasers’ too. They confirmed its brevity but gave nothing away, except to say it was ‘A spiritual essay, worth every penny of its hefty price tag.’

They Only Come Out at Night

(1200 words) “How did you sleep?” asked Janet, my best friend and roommate, on a sightseeing holiday in Spain. “Not well.” I grimaced. “I had bad dreams, like there was something on top of me, something heavy.” “Oh, that’s not nice.” “It felt like an animal or something, all hairy, then there was this awful face, I can’t begin to describe it. Like it had a beak. Ugh.” “Come on, Sally, let’s go down for breakfast, forget it, it was just a silly nightmare. I slept like a log!”

The Joy of Algebra

(1250 words) James sat at the dining room table. It was after school on Monday and a mathematics tome lay open in front of him. Through the window, he could see the garden and, in the distance, the little pond with the red garden gnome perpetually fishing. The door opened. “James, how are you getting on with your homework?” “Oh, I’m stuck on these quadratic equations.” His stepfather’s thin lips compressed. “Don’t you pay attention in class? Every schoolboy knows the square on the hypothenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. Or at least they did when I was your age!” James looked at his stepfather’s bulging eyes, his round red face and his black hair, that looked like it had been painted on. “I’m just no good at maths, dad. Look, let me go out with my friends, you know they’re going to clown school tonight.” John-Henry Schwartz almost exploded. “Clown school! That’s the height of your ambition is it, lad? Look, your mother and I want to see you top of the class in science, and that all starts with maths. So, from today, this is the plan. You get home from school, you have a glass of milk and two cookies, then we want a solid two hours’ study from you before dinner, then after dinner you can do your normal homework.” James looked up, his heart pounding and his palms sweaty. “That’s not fair!” “Mondays, algebra, Tuesdays, geometry, Wednesdays, trigonometry, and Thursdays, calculus.” “Oh, I get Friday off then?” James asked, hopefully. Clown school was Mondays and Fridays. John-Henry glared at his step-son. “No, you don’t. Do you think I got where I am, the CEO of an international company, by going to goddamn clown school? No, Friday is field theory.”

Opportunity Makes a Thief

(1000 words) After William Millington had known Frances Brader in Lincoln, England, for a few months, he began to think of her as The Widow. She always wore black, and he was given the feeling, by a certain disarrangement in her apartment, that the undertakers had just left. This impression did not stem from malice on his part, for he was fond of Frances. They were the same age, and during their first summer in the city, they used to meet after work and drink martinis in places like No Problemo and the Drill Hall and have dinner and play chess at Corcoran’s. “You know, Fran, you never did tell me why you always wear black,” William said one evening, moving a white knight into position in the centre of the board. Frances let out a puff of air. “That was the one move I was hoping you’d miss!” She took a sip of vodka martini. “Well, did you?” William insisted. Frances looked at the chessboard and sighed. “That was a damn good move, Bill, you’ve shut me down something rotten.” “Well?”

Train of Thought

(850 words) It was a spring day, and the writer sat on a bench under the station clock. He took a deep breath, revelling in the sensation of rebirth in the warm air. In the distance, far off, below the backdrop of craggy, pine-covered mountains, he could just make out a dot that signified the oncoming train. He was very old, and his thin frame seemed lost within the baggy grey suit he wore. He looked up at the clock, where the thick black minute hand against the white disc had just passed 11.50. Yes, the train would be on time.